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Space Coffee, Just the Way You Like It

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the good-to-the-last-floating-drop dept.

Space 147

Zothecula writes "Since the early days of space travel, a consistent complaint has been lousy coffee. Now a group of freshman engineering students at Rice University have developed a simple approach to alleviating this problem. From the article: 'The challenge was to develop a method and equipment that allows astronauts to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice) from a foil package to another that contains black coffee or tea. No spills in microgravity can be allowed, as these have a tendency to migrate into equipment and cause faults. The Rice freshmen designed their system around the existing black coffee pouches. NASA supplied them two-ply heat sealed pouches to hold the sugar syrup and cream. The beverage and condiment pouches all have a septum which allows access to their contents without allowing any of the liquid contents to escape.'"

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147 comments

I think I can spot the problem... (5, Funny)

madmarcel (610409) | about a year ago | (#43585547)

You put the Americans in charge of coffee?? I think I can spot the problem...

Re:I think I can spot the problem... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585791)

So, can I, you're racist.

Re:I think I can spot the problem... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586613)

So, can I, you're racist.

And if "american" was a race, you might have a point.

Re:I think I can spot the problem... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586217)

Putting Americans in charge of coffee? That's like putting the English in charge of tea.

Re:I think I can spot the problem... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43587341)

And here, kids, we have a perfect example for the use of the term 'non sequitur'.

The Russians used a pencil! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585549)

Colonies built on the moon: 0
Hours spent designing perfect zero-g latte: 1000+
Human race == fucked

Re:The Russians used a pencil! (2)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#43587185)

You do realize that a colony on the moon would NOT be in a zero-g environment? The moon has a micro-gravity, which will cause spilled liquids to fall to the floor, where they can be mopped up, much as we mop up spills on earth.

I like it Black, damnit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585551)

What if they only drink black coffee? All that extra creamer and sugar....prescious grams of take-off weight gone wasted

Re:I like it Black, damnit! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585613)

Are you talking about coffee or dick?

Customize? (5, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#43585555)

Given the expense of shipping people and supplies into orbit, and the fact that the people you are going to be shipping are generally known in advance, wouldn't it be substantially simpler just to ask them for their preferred beverage mixture and seal that in a single pouch?

This isn't some sort of commercial aviation scenario, where the catering supplier has to do an approximate match against the uncertain tastes of 250 random passengers, which makes modular food much more sensible; or an MRE-type scenario where they have to stamp out a zillion of them and ship them wherever, so it just isn't practical to ensure that Pvt. SomeGuy gets exactly the combination he wants assembled at the factory and supply-chained out to him at firebase nowhere 18 months from now...

Re:Customize? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585641)

But but your method deprives some 18 yr olds from feeling like they just solved the world's most important problem.

Re:Customize? (2)

gTsiros (205624) | about a year ago | (#43585765)

on the other hand, i can't imagine astronauts being so picky with their coffee. Or if drinking is a good idea, being an astronaut.

maybe my mind is still 50 years back.

Re:Customize? (3, Interesting)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year ago | (#43586185)

Or maybe you just have silly stereotypes about astronauts, and likely coffee.

So you think astronauts are not driven people who would gladly sacrifice their own body and long term health for the sake of the mission and being an astronaut? Do you really think coffee is that bad? I have worked in a major hospital and let me tell you....lots of Doctors and Nurses in that coffee line.

Re:Customize? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585781)

The coffee in space would have to be pretty damn bad for it to be improved by reheating pre-brewed, pre-sweetened coffee that's been stored in a pouch for months on end.

Re:Customize? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43587533)

I drink pre-brewed, pre-sweetened, coffee that's been stored in a can for months on end. It's not bad at all. Oh, you drink it cold though, not reheated.

Re:Customize? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585789)

So am I to understand that condiments, like sweetener and creamer, will be rocketed into space with the possibility of not being used? Is space-junk unused ketchup packets? Are astronauts searching for A1 and mayo too? No, really, why isn't this pre-mixed? We're talking about rocket scientists here.

Re:Customize? (1)

Demonantis (1340557) | about a year ago | (#43585807)

It is kind of a contrived situation, but its a decent system and there are probably more uses for it beyond this. Specifically with lab work.

Re:Customize? (2)

Shadow of Eternity (795165) | about a year ago | (#43585815)

You're forgetting that this system will work for more than just coffee.

Re:Customize? (4, Insightful)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | about a year ago | (#43587219)

Bingo!

Everyone seems to be hung up on coffee, as though that were the ONLY liquid that might ever need to be mixed with another ingredient in zero gravity.

Hello, everyone! The same methods used to add cream to coffee will likely work in scientific experiments, or mixing epoxy cements, or, preparing an acid solution, or - just about anything that requires two ingredients to be mixed.

Re:Customize? (1)

macraig (621737) | about a year ago | (#43585933)

I'm not even a rare-occasion coffee drinker so I'm hardly an expert on the chemistry, but might this be a situation similar to, say, two-part epoxy materials, where the desired result occurs at the time two compounds are mixed and doing that mixing prematurely leads to unacceptable consequences? Would coffee taste quite right if the additives were added weeks or months in advance of consumption?

If the astronaut pool were large enough, it might be more cost effective to simply weed out those that had inconvenient food (or other) preferences.

Re:Customize? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585953)

Astronaut school: no smokers or coffee addicts allowed.

Re:Customize? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586017)

Given the expense of shipping people and supplies into orbit, and the fact that the people you are going to be shipping are generally known in advance, wouldn't it be substantially simpler just to ask them for their preferred beverage mixture and seal that in a single pouch?

That's not what I was thinking. I was thinking, wouldn't it be substantially simpler just to ask them to tough it out for a while and drink black coffee? I've done deep field work and yes, it sucks, being without the comforts of home, but a few sacrifices need to be made. This one seems pretty darn tiny.

Re:Customize? (2)

angiasaa (758006) | about a year ago | (#43586207)

Well, I for one have tastes that change from day to day. Almost every time I make my coffee (which is about 6 to 8 times a day), I change something around. It's not that I absolutely MUST have variations in my coffee. But there's little joy in having the same stuff over long periods of time.

But you do have a very valid point. They're on duty 24/7 in the ISS, and they knew what they were getting into well in advance. A rough blend in their preferred proportions would be a much better idea.

Re:Customize? (1)

nschubach (922175) | about a year ago | (#43587181)

I'm totally opposite. I tend to find a flavor and have no problem eating the same thing day in and day out. When I drink coffee, I prefer it black and without variations of sugar or cream.

Re:Customize? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586259)

I think it would be simpler to get them something like those multi-button drink guns like bars use. This way you could easily add other things to meals, like ketchup. Would cost a lot more weight on the initial send up, but I think it would be simpler/easier/quicker for the astronauts to deal with on a day-to-day basis. You still only have one hose for the water, but you have a couple of "option" pouches held behind the gun and pressing the different buttons sucks product out of a specific pouch at a known rate using the venturi principle. Of course you would need something like a flap and rubber bands to keep tension on the pouches. Replacing an empty option pouches (or adding a new one like, say Tabasco) would involve releasing the tension on the pouch, pull it out, put a new one in, replace the tension. I can see it in my mind though I know I'm not describing it well.

Re:Customize? (1)

confused one (671304) | about a year ago | (#43586455)

Yes, because I'm sure that astronauts want the exact same beverage mix every time, for three to six months straight.

Re:Customize? (1)

nschubach (922175) | about a year ago | (#43587209)

I generally drink the same concoction of syrup and carbonated water... been doing it for years. Usually out of a red and white aluminum can. Other than that, water, milk or black coffee. I assume they have more than just coffee available so I don't see why they can't pick a combination of sugars and cream for their coffee. I guess that's just me from the other posts here.

If I had mod points... (1)

TKane (1069880) | about a year ago | (#43586985)

I'd mod every other +5 response in this entire thread (other than "funny" ones) "over rated".

Re:Customize? (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a year ago | (#43587321)

As others have mentioned there are other applications for this method, but sticking to the Coffee demonstration premixing foods for consumption in space is a bit tricky. Things don't taste quite the same in zero G as they do in a gravity environment for most astronauts. While the basic parameters are fairly well know (less sugar than normal, more spices than normal, etc) tweaking it for individual tastes could be difficult. I believe the aspects of this also change depending on how long the astronaut is in orbit, the longer they are in zero g the closer their tastes return to more of an earth normal.

Re:Customize? (1)

twistofsin (718250) | about a year ago | (#43587481)

I had the same thought. I'm sure they pay out of the nose for these package, why not insist they be customized to the preferences of the astronauts going on the trip?

A good rule of them for going into a dangerous environment is to get as much shit done as you can outside of it. If things are so strange up there that it's best to precook all your food I think premixing your flavored beverages is worth the effort to.

space coffee (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585571)

Starbucks that even Starbuck would like?

just educate the astronauts (0)

loufoque (1400831) | about a year ago | (#43585627)

Coffee is better black and strong, without any additional ingredient.
Otherwise it's not coffee, it's just sweetened water.

Re:just educate the astronauts (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585635)

Just like your women eh?

Re:just educate the astronauts (1, Insightful)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#43585653)

Agreed. In fact, the only difference between good coffee and bad coffee is about two hours first thing in the morning.

Re:just educate the astronauts (1)

dugancent (2616577) | about a year ago | (#43585743)

Coffee is better black and strong, without any additional ingredient.
Otherwise it's not coffee, it's just sweetened water.

Coffee in any form is disgusting. 34 years and still can't stand it.

Re:just educate the astronauts (1)

Hatta (162192) | about a year ago | (#43585895)

Yes, if you like coffee drink it black so you can taste the coffee. If you don't like coffee why drink it at all? Adding milk and sugar to coffee just covers up the flavors of bad coffee. If you really want astronauts to drink good coffee, you need to figure out how to grind coffee beans in zero G, steep and filter them.

Re:just educate the astronauts (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586399)

I'll drink coffee however the fuck I want to. Humans discovered a long time ago that combining different ingredients makes things taste different.. and taste is subjective. Some people just don't like it black, some do.

Re:just educate the astronauts (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586815)

Yes exactly! I've been arguing this for years. And it's not just coffee either. Every food should be eaten either in it's pure unmixed form, or not at all. Salt and ketchup on your fries? Guess you don't really like fries. Lemon aid? Why bother with the sugar, just drink lemon juice. Think you like salad? Not if you put dressing on it.

Re:just educate the astronauts (1)

nschubach (922175) | about a year ago | (#43587231)

I imagine grinding wouldn't be terribly hard. You couldn't use a gravity press, but pushing the beans against a grinder isn't all that difficult. Steeping can be handled with something like a French Press I would assume and filtering would be included in the press.

Let's see them do a Tea Ceremony in space (3, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year ago | (#43585689)

Something I got a kick out of was when Michael Stackpole wrote out an elaborate Japanese Tea Ceremony in Zero-G in one of his BattleTech novels. He didn't have to, but it was great reading.

septum? (2)

one_who_uses_unix (68992) | about a year ago | (#43585691)

Am I the only one that is decidedly uncomfortable with drinking from anything with a septum?

Re:septum? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586503)

I don't think you will ever have to use this invention, so don't worry about it.

However, just in case you're a millionaire that's planning to pay for a ride on the ISS: septum is just a fancy word for partition.

Lemon juice (1)

Longjmp (632577) | about a year ago | (#43585713)

a consistent complaint has been lousy coffee. [...] allows astronauts to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice)

I almost choked reading up to this point... I recovered a little bit when I read further ;)

Re:Lemon juice (1)

kwark (512736) | about a year ago | (#43586041)

Read further:
"to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice) from a foil package to another that contains black coffee or tea."
The lemon part is for the tea. Just like you don't add cream to tea, lemon to coffee makes no sense.

Before my coffee addiction I used to add lemon to tea, it appears to be something eastern european.

Re:Lemon juice (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586091)

you like espresso? i make it back there myself with a little lemon twist, it's good!

Re:Lemon juice (1)

Longjmp (632577) | about a year ago | (#43586127)

Read further:
"to add liquid ingredients (cream, sweetener, and lemon juice) from a foil package to another that contains black coffee or tea."

Why was that fuss about the blink tag? Sometimes you seem to need it:

I recovered a little bit when I read further ;)

No offense :)

Re:Lemon juice (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586047)

I almost choked reading up to this point...

Once upon a time, I was making some coffee and I wanted it to have an edge and some sweetness. I mixed milk and lemon juice into the cup, stirred and took a big gulp. Nearly died choking. The acidity of the lemon juice curdled the milk, and it tasted like hot vomit. Never mix (real) dairy with acidic stuff like lemon juice.

On the bright side, if I ever need to make someone else lose a dare I'll know what to give them to drink.

Re:Lemon juice (1)

Longjmp (632577) | about a year ago | (#43586223)

On the bright side, if I ever need to make someone else lose a dare I'll know what to give them to drink.

Try coffee with a spoon of salt instead of sugar (i.e. give them a "sugar bowl" filled with salt)

Just be sure to film their faces :D

Re:Lemon juice (1)

SternisheFan (2529412) | about a year ago | (#43586369)

...The acidity of the lemon juice curdled the milk, and it tasted like hot vomit. ...

Dear diary, was reading Slashdot comments today. Guess what I learned never to do...

Re:Lemon juice (1)

radish (98371) | about a year ago | (#43587151)

Never mix (real) dairy with acidic stuff like lemon juice

Unless you want buttermilk, because that's what you just made. But keep buttermilk in the pancakes, not the coffee :)

Lemon Juice? (0)

BlackusDiamondus (945259) | about a year ago | (#43585717)

Am I the only one that finds the concept of lemon juice in coffee disturbing? I have never even heard of anyone doing that before - it's that bizarre!

Re:Lemon Juice? (1)

Tarlus (1000874) | about a year ago | (#43585907)

In Rodney Dangerfield's voice:
I've heard of coffee with a citrus overtone, but this is ridiculous!

Bad for you ... don't eat. (0)

mspohr (589790) | about a year ago | (#43585759)

Sugar and cream are bad for you and ruin the taste of coffee.
I don't know what to say about lemon juice since it sounds terrible in coffee.

missing the point (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585819)

Now if only someone can figure out a method that allows astronauts to sip the coffee from an oversized mug, as God intended, they will really have accomplished something.

Another Solution (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585839)

I've got another solution that's long over due. How about...

Baristas...
    In...
        Space!

Someone should tell Chris Hadfield (4, Informative)

dwywit (1109409) | about a year ago | (#43585841)

"No spills in microgravity can be allowed, as these have a tendency to migrate into equipment and cause faults. "

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMtXfwk7PXg [youtube.com]

Re:Someone should tell Chris Hadfield (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43587045)

"No spills in microgravity can be allowed, as these have a tendency to migrate into equipment and cause faults. "

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMtXfwk7PXg [youtube.com]

Most military grade electronics have conformal coatings on them so unless they are immersed in water a little moisture 'should' not damage it.

what about black? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585891)

So was the only prior complaint that coffee could only be taken black, without cream and sugar? Or is the method used to produce coffee in microgravity somehow inferior to Earth-bound methods?

Perfecting the method of adding cream and sugar has nothing to do with the quality of the coffee in question - cream and sugar are for people who don't appreciate a good coffee in the first place. This is like claiming to "fix" wine because you've figured out a new way to make sangria.

New franchise locations? (1)

ihtpsswrds (647476) | about a year ago | (#43585917)

And this research was funded by a generous grant from Starbucks? Spaceports in zero-g with a kiosk for my triple venti mocha while I wait for the flight to Mars. Now on to the baking dilemma.

Space Coffee (1)

Tarlus (1000874) | about a year ago | (#43585929)

Just the thing to pour into my space mug and drink with my space breakfast while I read my space newspaper.

Space pen (1)

quarterbuck (1268694) | about a year ago | (#43585939)

Meanwhile the Russians used instant coffee .
(Saying this as an owner of a fisher space pen).

Re:Space pen (1)

skine (1524819) | about a year ago | (#43586905)

I know that you're just making a joke, but it irks me when people laugh at the US for spending millions of dollars developing a pen that can be used in space.

The real story being that Paul Fisher (owner of Fisher) invented the pen on his own, then sold it to both the US and Russian space programs. Both programs preferred the pens to the risk of broken pencils or pencil shavings floating into crucial equipment.

The problem isn't lousy coffee? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43585985)

Good coffee doesn't need cream, milk or sugar... if the coffee is good after this and the coffee is unchanged - the coffee was already good.

Lemon Juice? WTF? (-1, Redundant)

imag0 (605684) | about a year ago | (#43585987)

Anyone who puts lemon juice in their coffee should have their coffee taken away from them and it given to an adult who can enjoy a proper cup of coffee responsibly.

Re:Lemon Juice? WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586163)

I suspect the lemon is for the tea.

Re:Lemon Juice? WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586333)

Did you even bother to finish reading the whole sentence in the freakin' summary before posting this?

Black Coffee (1)

Ricyteach (2565289) | about a year ago | (#43586397)

Or they could just man up and drink it black the way God intended.

Re:Black Coffee (1)

confused one (671304) | about a year ago | (#43586499)

So... eating the roasted beans then?

Re:Black Coffee (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586863)

So... eating the roasted beans then?

Why roast them?

Re:Black Coffee (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43587207)

As long as it's a nice medium roast coated in milk chocolate, yes!

Re:Black Coffee (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43587289)

Milk chocolate, you say? Hell no! 100% cacao, my friend—the way Yahweh intended.

No one thought of this before? (1)

darkfeline (1890882) | about a year ago | (#43586473)

Seriously? I know they say, everything seems obvious in hindsight, but they really couldn't figure out squeezing sugar and creamer from one pouch into another coffe pouch? These guys design space ships? Am I the only one who sees something wrong here?

Re:No one thought of this before? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586653)

Maybe they all like coffee or don't drink it. If you're adding cream and sugar to it, it's not coffee you like, it's coffee milk [wikipedia.org] .

Re:No one thought of this before? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43586847)

I don't understand this widespread sentiment that if you put anything in coffee it is no longer coffee. It certainly is still coffee, the same as a salad is still a salad even if you put dressing on it.

Re:No one thought of this before? (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about a year ago | (#43587701)

current astronauts are pussies, the ones of yore just drank the motor oil given to them and didnt whine about it

its 2013 we have to have fucking starbucks provided to the government or else the fembots get offended

OK, here's my invention (1)

Rob_Bryerton (606093) | about a year ago | (#43586875)

Here's my solution (This being /., I did not read the article. I stopped reading after the problem was described so I could solve it)

3-chamber bag created w/that silvery plastic foil material, chambers created by a heat seal. Larger top compartment has black coffee (and pie-hole nozzle) and at the bottom, 2 small compartments side-by-side hold cream & sweetener. The top of each of the lower 2 chambers has a simple pressure-activated valve into the coffee chamber. You squeeze these to add desired amounts of cream and sugar to the coffee.

Where's my honorary engineering degree?

Eh... (1)

sunking2 (521698) | about a year ago | (#43586971)

Drinking from a pouch is going to taste like crap regardless if it has no way for the aroma to escape. And there's something about holding a nice warm mug that makes it the morning comfort beverage.

Meanwhile... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43587401)

...the Russians just took caffeine pills.

Preference (1)

ignavus (213578) | about a year ago | (#43587465)

Just give preference to people who drink plain black coffee.

Then I would have a better chance of qualifying for space travel.

yea coffee (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | about a year ago | (#43587693)

That's the problem with a 30 year stagnate space program that cant even muster enough excitement to justify its existence anymore

You are floating above the Earth like Helios (1)

zbobet2012 (1025836) | about a year ago | (#43587777)

You are floating above the Earth like Helios riding a chariot of fire across the sky. The greeks would have believed you a god atop Olympus. The blue earth turns below you, so captivating in its beauty that generations have marveled at the blue marble. The night sky is so full of stars it is dizzying in its beauty. You are participating in mankind's first steps to becoming immortal among them.

But the coffee sucks.
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